Date: April 10, 1938
Prayer for Holy Week
O Christ, Thou crucified Redeemer of our race:
As on this day Thou didst once hold Thy peaceful and triumphant entry into Jerusalem, do Thou now enter our hearts with Thy Spirit, so that we may acclaim Thee, thorncrowned, riven of side, nail-pierced in hands and feet, our Savior, our King, our God. Look down upon us with Thy continued mercy, so that, as we contemplate anew Thy torture and dying on the cross, our hearts may be filled with the admission of our own guilt, with the realization of the punishment decreed for all unforgiven wrong, with unfeigned faith and soul-deep gratitude for the finished and perfect sacrifice of Thyself for our sins.
Bring those who are living without Thee and against Thee to Thy cross in contrition and faith. Especially do we entreat Thee to preserve us from all spiritual disloyalty, whereby our acclaim of Thee may quickly change to the sullen rejection of Thy mercies. Keep those who know Thy blood-bought salvation faithful unto the end, so that in Thy time and by Thy grace we may all, delivered from sin, worship Thee together with the Father and Holy Spirit in the radiance of heavenly holiness. Hear us as once more we stand in spirit on Calvary; and help us by the pledge of Thy cross! Amen.
Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. – Luke 23:46
Into Thine hand I commit My spirit: Thou hast redeemed Me, O Lord God of truth. – Psalm 31:5
IT is said that Emperor Ferdinand I instructed the imperial artists to paint him praying beneath the cross of Christ. When the princes of his court objected that no sovereign in his might and magnificence should ever be depicted on his knees, the emperor insisted that he be portrayed humble and contrite before the cross since he owed to his crucified Savior his scepter, his crown, and the blessings of eternity.—As this week we approach in spirit the most sacred spot in the world, Calvary with its cross, to recall the turning-point in all human destiny, the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, may we be brought to our knees in penitent sorrow over our sins and in undying gratitude for our blood-bought completed salvation!
We call the death-day of our Savior Good Friday; but for Christ it was a fearful Friday, His day of dying the countless deaths of all mankind. We commemorate the crucifixion with impressive services; yet how revolting and repulsive was every act of injustice by which the Savior was nailed to the cross of His death! Six hundred million Christians throughout the world pay homage this week to the bleeding, suffering, dying Christ of God; but on that day of His death only a handful of His followers stood sympathetically beneath the cross. In many parts of the world and in large church-bodies, priests and preachers don expensive robes of ritual to read the dark record of Calvary; yet Jesus was nailed naked to the cross. Sublime songs, the masterpieces of musical art, recreate for us the scenes of His atoning death; yet on that blood-marked Friday no litanies, oratorios, sacred cantatas, resounded over ugly, skull-shaped Golgotha; instead, only the refrain of such heartless ridicule, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.” Only the rumble of an earth that shook in protest! The great artists of the ages have vied with each other to produce worthy, gripping studies of the crucifixion; and the total value of these superb creations runs high into the multiplied millions; yet the real, flesh-and-blood crucifixion was so horrifying with its agony, pain, and thirst, its fever, tension, and exposure, its lacerated arteries, loss of blood, and, sometimes, gangrene, that the sun itself would no longer behold the arch-suffering of all the ages, but hid its face in heavy darkness while Christ bore the most penetrating sorrows, the suffering for the individual and total sins of the entire race. We have popularized and modernized the cross. Jewelers in our large cities advertise a streamlined cross for ninety-eight cents, and it has become a flare of fashion to display the sacred emblem; but how little do we know of that first rugged, blood-marked cross of agonies on which Jesus as the everlasting Sacrifice was offered, a cross so accursed that those who even touched it considered themselves unclean!
Jesus alone, the sin-bearing Savior, towers high above all the horror of that supercrime committed at Calvary. Hear Him as He speaks His seven last words. Only once does he mention the agonies of His body, when His parched lips gasp, “I thirst!” Only once does He give expression to the harrowing anguish of His soul when, paying the penalty of all human transgression, He cries, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Instead of shrieking in uncontrollable anguish; instead of begging some bystander to put an end to His misery; instead of pleading for an opiate or a narcotic that would deaden His pain and His consciousness, He forgets His suffering and provides for His mother. He pleads, as our blessed High Priest, for those who have caused these miseries, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” To show us that our salvation is the full, free, unrestricted gift of His love; that in His kingdom there is room for every sinner, regardless of class or color distinction, no matter how vile or vicious; that there is no intermediate state of purging for those who die in the faith, Jesus turns to the thief and promises, “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.” When His last moments approach, the Savior first places the seal of completed redemption on His work as He calls, “It is finished!” and then, the turmoil and the terror of His suffering almost over, He utters
THE LAST CRY FROM THE CROSS
His valedictory to life and the reassurance of His resurrection, the words: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Saint Luke 23:46). In commemoration of that suffering let us study these words as we also find them in the fifth verse of the Thirty-first Psalm, from which Jesus quotes: “Into Thine hands I commit My spirit: Thou hast redeemed Me, O Lord God of truth.”
A PRAYERFUL CRY FROM THE SCRIPTURES
It is momentously significant that the last words of the dying Savior were words from the Scriptures. When all else gave way, when the storm of His suffering was drawing to its close and His life hung on a thin thread, Jesus took recourse to the eternal, unchangeable truth and clothed His valedictory of life in the phrases of the Psalter.
We, too, need, more than anything else in our war-torn, peace-robbed age, the strength that comes to us from the Bible. As long as we have faith in the promises of God, sealed by the blood of Christ, we have an immovable basis on which our faith for life and death may be grounded and preserved.
Reports from Jerusalem tell us that the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the reputed site of our Savior’s burial, are in danger of sudden collapse, while the substructure, built on a platform of solid rock, is unshakable. So in our lives, much that men build themselves will pass away, but the rock foundation of the Word will never be moved. Whether you accept Christ as your Savior or not, whether you believe or reject the Good Friday message that Jesus, His arms stretched on that cross of blood and death, died to save you from sin, hell, eternal death, it is the positive, absolute, final, unchangeable truth of Heaven itself.
The eternal power and truth of the Scriptures to which the Savior testified a moment before death sealed His lips in silence will remain even though the Bible is hated and opposed as no other book. American education, recreation, home-life,—the whole American attitude is often antiBiblical. We are training a generation of spiritual illiterates, and in their ignorance of God’s Word we are preparing the most fertile ground for radicalism and revolution.
This week I spoke with an intelligent Christian young woman, a sophomore in one of the best-known women’s colleges in the United States. She had come from a Christian family, with a father and mother devoted to the work of the Church. She herself had been nurtured in the love of Christ; yet when she went to that college, the curriculum demanded as a required course a discussion of the Bible and of the Christian creed. In that school, founded by an outstanding attorney who was converted to Christ and who gave almost two million dollars to keep that college Christian, the teachers of religion systematically tore down the faith of that young woman, an “A” student, claimed to reduce the Bible to a mass of contradiction, described it as merely a human book, faulty, mistaken, sometimes immoral. The result? This Christian girl, with tears in her eyes, declared that her peace of mind had been robbed, that she hardly knew what to believe and what not to believe.
Because this is not an isolated instance, but part of a wide, vicious assault on the Bible led even by churches and tolerated in interchurch councils, we experience much of unrest, unhappiness, irreligion, immorality. Rejecting the Word of God, ours has become an age of human, sometimes sordid enlightenment. Four pages of pictures featured in a national illustrated weekly, which the police of Saint Louis as of many other cities have confiscated and wisely banned from the newsstands, show the callus of our times. If only in this wave of enthusiasm for spreading information on the facts of birth and life our materially minded age could be led to discuss and believe the far greater and eternal facts of the new birth in heavenly life!
Good Friday, with the Savior’s last words a passage from Scripture, must always remind those who are His of the rich glories of the Scriptures. Even Christians, it often seems, busy themselves with almost everything else except the grace and truth of Scripture, that sacred Word which is able to build them up. How many Bible-reading, Bible-searching, Bible-loving homes are there in this nation today? How many of you can truthfully say: “I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies”? Many church-members busy themselves with special meetings and special programs, suppers and socials, entertainments, dramatics, and card-playing, so that only a few incidental moments remain for the truth of Christ. It is time for a protracted period of humiliation and prayer throughout modern Christendom, so that the Scriptures may be restored to their position of paramount power.
We need the spirit of one man in this audience to whose faith I am happy to pay this public tribute. When two letters with generous contributions came to us from the vicinity of Boston, I asked a friend, one of our pastors, to call on the donor and express my personal thanks. The address was that of a very large estate; yet it was not the wealthy owner who had so generously remembered our cause; it was the caretaker! Unexpectedly he had received fifty dollars and had sent that sum for our radio mission, even though, as he admitted, he did not know whether he would ever have that amount again. The truly remarkable aspect of the Christian faith that dwelt in the souls of the caretaker and his wife was the fact that they read the Bible fifty-four times from cover to cover; that as soon as he had come to Christ, he wanted to learn more about His Savior. He bought a Hebrew grammar, dictionary, and Testament, and through long vigils of nightly study, without a teacher, he learned the original language of the Old Testament, so that he could delve deeply into the beauty of God’s Word. Then he did the same thing with the Greek of the New Testament, so that today he finds inner happiness in discovering a deeper meaning in the riches of God’s Word. That man in the gardener’s cottage near the Blue Hills of Boston shows more devotion to his Savior in this respect than some who wear clerical robes and preach from pulpits. His is the love of God’s Word that we must have today.
Christ on the cross not only quoted Scripture; He prayed Scripture, and in His dying hour showed what a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer. Have you ever realized as you trace the last night and day of our Savior’s life how completely His sufferings were saturated with prayer? He starts with a heart-stirring high-priestly petition to His Father and ends the suffering of crucifixion as His head drops in that life-giving death with another prayer; and between Gethsemane and Calvary, as the prophetic picture of the Twenty-second Psalm reads, His thoughts constantly winged their way from the agonies of His trial and torture to the power and love of His heavenly Father.
Need I remind you of the unused, neglected, forgotten power of prayer, of the sullen, sneering attitude twentiethcentury unbelief assumes toward the Christian practice of coming before the throne of God in Jesus’ name? We wonder how erratic minds can starve their bodies, refuse to accept healing medicine for sickness; we shake our heads when we read of airplanes that have crashed because they have lost communication with headquarters and ground stations or when we hear of ships that have foundered on the high seas because they had no wireless with which to send an S O S; but is this as tragic as the failure in many lives that are wrecked because they have spurned the power of prayer, the guidance that God promises to all who approach Him in the name and by the mercy of the crucified Savior? If you have never learned to pray—I mean to pray earnestly, personally, powerfully, pleadingly—for the assurance of your salvation, for the lightening of your burdens, for a key to the mystery of your sorrow, for an answer to the questions in your life, for the power to conquer sin, to forget the hideous mistakes of the past, then may God now, in this Lenten season, direct your gaze to the cross, to its atoning Christ, to His last words, a cry of prayer; and may you learn of Jesus how to pray humbly yet confidently because you pray through faith, trusting in His life-giving grace. As the Savior’s prayer was answered when He committed His soul into the hands of His Father, so your prayer in Jesus’ name and according to His will must be answered, not always in the time, and at the place and after the manner that you select, but always according to God’s good will and in His gracious way. From Golgotha the praying Christ, the dying Christ, the atoning Christ, looks at our age with a plea for more prayer, deeper prayer, stronger prayer and with the heavenly promise of answered prayer, achieving prayer, victorious prayer.
A CRY OF CONFIDENCE IN THE COMPLETED REDEMPTION
Christ’s last cry from the cross is an exemplary prayer for us. As the first of those seven sacred words that Jesus uttered in this agony of approaching death, “Father, forgive them,” so the last begins with the same address of faith, “Father.” It is the glorious blessing of the Good Friday suffering that through the cross God has again become our Father; that through the merits and the substitution of our Savior we can pray, “Our Father,” and have the confidence, as the apostle reminds us, that we “are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Mohammedanism has scores of names and descriptive designations for Allah, but not once is he called “father.” Unbelief has invented many new titles for its modern concepts of the Deity; but it shies from acknowledging God as the Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and from confessing that all of us, children of wrath because of our sins, can become children of grace because of Christ. When Jesus in the last hours of His life, from the long prayer on Thursday to this last prayer on Friday, repeatedly spoke of His Father; when He declared, “I ascend unto My Father and your Father,” He strengthened us in the assurance of that fatherhood of God and the eternal sonship of the believer, reestablished at Calvary, which gives us the supreme distinction of being God’s children. To have the assurance that, “like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him”; to know that in His perfect and divine fatherhood the Almighty for Jesus’ sake forgives the vileness of our lives, the impurities of our minds, the hatreds of our hearts; to take refuge, as a child turns to its earthly father, in the eternal wisdom, power, and love of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, who loved every one of us with that perfect, all-powerful love that “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all”; to call God “our Father” in this faith and to be called “His children” by this grace—can life hold any higher promise and blessing?
See how children of wealth are guarded against all possibility of harm by corps of servants and companions! No sacrifice of time or money is too large to preserve their health and happiness; parental love adopts every precaution to assure their safety and prevent injury or kidnapping. At Calvary we witness that deeper and eternal love for our sin-marked lives by which God, devoted to Christ, His only Son, as no Father has ever been bound to his child, laid all sins on His Son and by His death ordained life and eternity for us. Some of you fathers know what it means to have an only son suffer and die. Think what it would mean if you were deliberately asked to give an only child into the terrors of death for the benefit and blessing of others! Yet an inconceivably greater sacrifice was made on the first Good Friday so that God might be our reconciled Father.
Then Jesus speaks of His Father’s hands, with the power and protection they afford. The hands that stretched the canopy of the heavens and studded it with myriads of stars; the hands that called the universe into being and direct the music of the spheres; the hands that raised the mountains and dug the hollows of the seas; the hands that arouse sleeping nature for the reawakening of spring, that touch the dry bones of death and transform them into newness of life;—into those divine hands that guided the inspired writers to pen promise after promise, Christ committed His soul and now asks you to commit yours. If, as the Scriptures remind us, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,”—the hands that raze cities, destroy armies, devastate empires,—how blessed to place our souls into the hands of the loving God and know as Jesus says that “no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand”!
This is the summarized, essential message of the cross: Through Christ we can entrust our souls, sin-marked and sorrow-laden as they may be, into the care and protection of God. No treasures can ever be safeguarded with closer care in massive vaults, in subterranean storerooms like those that hold the treasuries of France, in high and wide-walled structures of stone, iron, and concrete like the depository of our national wealth in Fort Knox; for once through Christ we are protected by the hand of God, no time or turmoil, no death or disaster, can dislodge us.
The words which Jesus quotes in the Thirty-first Psalm are followed by that cry of victory over sin which Jesus did not need, but which you and I must have. There the psalmist cries, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit. Thou hast redeemed me.” When you approach the cross with the faith which without excuse or exception pleads guilty to the indictment of sin and the charge of your conscience; when you “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,” offered in the one sacrifice for all the generations of men; and when your faith triumphs, “Thou hast redeemed me” by Thy free, full mercy, “redeemed me” beyond all question or quiver, “redeemed me” from my repeated transgressions and my constant weakness, “redeemed me” from sin, death, and the power of hell, from the tyranny of sorrow and affliction, from the fears and terrors of life, then you have the faith by which you can live victoriously and die triumphantly.
No wonder that Christians in all lands and centuries have prayed this last cry from the cross in their final hours with the calm bravery of their Savior! When death approached Ansgar, intrepid missionary to Scandinavia, he prayed, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit,” and when his faltering lips could no longer form these words, friends, at his request, continued to repeat them aloud as long as his beating heart showed the flickering flame of life. John Huss, sentenced to death by churchmen who concluded their shameful verdict of guilty with the statement, “And thus we deliver thy soul unto Satan,” answered, “And I commit into Thy hand, Lord Jesus Christ, the soul that Thou hast redeemed.” Martin Luther, the mighty work of his reformation completed, prayed three times on his deathbed, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.” Nicholas Ridley, sixteenthcentury witness to Christ in England, was condemned to death because he taught salvation through the blood of Jesus; and when, chained to the stake, he saw the flames leaping toward him, he cried in an amazingly loud voice, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit.” Hugh McKail, a youthful and eloquent preacher in Scotland, standing on the gallows to which he had been condemned for his loyalty to the cross, declared before he swung into eternity, “Farewell, Father and Mother! Farewell, friends and relatives! Farewell, world and all delights! Farewell, sun, moon, and stars! Welcome, blessed Spirit of grace, the God of all consolation! Welcome, glory! Welcome, eternal life! Welcome, death! ‘Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.’” William Harvey, physician, who discovered the circulation of the blood, closed the last hour of his life by confessing: “I do most humbly render my soul to Him who gave it and to my blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Sir Henry W. Ackland, professor of medicine at Oxford, wrote these words into his last will, “I commit my soul unto my heavenly Father and the love of Christ.”
Will you not, without waiting in dangerous delay for the dying hour, behold your crucified Savior and resolve, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me”? Today is Palm Sunday, commemorating the entrance of Jesus into the Holy City. What a happy and an appropriate time to have Jesus come into your heart and enter your life with His love! Thousands of children this morning knelt before their Savior to affirm their loyalty to Jesus, publicly to proclaim their faith in His redemption. May God give them the strength to remain “faithful unto death” as they pray, “Into Thine hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me.” Yet this Palm Sunday finds many of you repeating the ancient disloyalty which marked this day. It was only five days after Jesus held his procession of peace into Jerusalem that He was forced to carry His cross on the death-march out of the city! Only five days between the acclaim that strewed clothing along His way and the denial which robbed Him of the last vestige of His clothing! Only five days between the enthusiasm that cut down branches to be waved in welcome and the cutting down of a tree to crucify Christ in rejection! Only five days between His entrance as a conqueror and His exit as a condemned criminal! With the same quick ingratitude some of you have rejected the Christ of your souls. In the name of the Crucified I plead with you: Think of the penalty paid by those who helped to consign Christ to the cross! Judas and Pontius Pilate were suicides. The house of Annas, the high priest, was destroyed by the mob, and his son was murdered. After a few years Caiaphas, the other high priest, was removed from his office. Herod, deposed and exiled, died in shame. Before the generation that had murdered the Savior, crying, “His blood be on us and on our children,” had fulfilled the span of its time, the massacres which Jesus had prophesied came upon the city and the people who had rejected the Messiah. The historian Josephus tells us that during the subsequent siege and capture of Jerusalem for a long time five hundred of the Savior’s fellow-countrymen were crucified every day, until the Roman conqueror could find no more wood to make crosses and no more space to erect the instruments of torture. Ten thousands of the citizens of Jerusalem were sold into abject slavery, and by the irony of punishment the price that was paid for these captives was less even than the thirty pieces of silver for which the betrayer sold his Savior. In our own country, more than high expenditures for superdreadnaughts and air armadas, the nation needs the increased spiritual support and resources offered through intense personal loyalty to Jesus Christ and devoted membership in His Church. Millions who are totally indifferent to the message of the Cross must be reached, not only through the agencies of the ministers and church-workers themselves, but through the enlarged missionary zeal on the part of individual Christians working day and night for the evangelization of America.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked!” Every one of you indulging in the folly of attempting to live without Christ or against Christ has now heard the message of your redemption. If you have never heard it before, from this hour on you can never plead ignorance. You are either for Christ, or you are definitely against Him. If nothing has ever been able to convince you of the soul-destroying power of sin, of the weighty indebtedness incurred by your iniquity, of the wrath provoked by your transgressions, then behold Christ, the Crucified, and see the terrifying reality and punishment of all human sin visited upon Him in the agony of Calvary. If nothing has ever been able to warm your heart with the assurance of the love of God, free you from the fear of the Judgment to come, strengthen you for the adversities of life, behold Jesus once more on the accursed tree, and as His faltering lips seem to say, “All this I gave for thee; what givest thou to Me?” then may faith triumph over fear, as you—God grant every one of you—penitently answer, “I give myself to Thee. ‘Into Thine hand I commit my soul; Thou hast redeemed me,’ Thou Christ of the cross, my Lord and God, my Ransom and Savior, my Life for all eternity!” Amen!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.